During the last week of 2010 i had the distinct pleasure of ending the year with a favorite piece for a favorite client, The New York Times Book Review. The assignment was to illustrate the review of the novel Zone by Mattias Énard, a book comprised of an internal monologue presented as one gigantic run on sentence and containing only one period. Thematically the book uses this questionably reliable and fractured narrative voice to chronicle and embody the violence, confusion, suspicion and chaos of the 20th century's transition into the 21st. As such, the winding, circuitous "plot" covers and recovers a lot of ground and i immediately wanted nothing to do with a traditional "narrative illustration" approach for this assignment.
Flash back a day before receiving the call from the Times. Back at the ancestral home for the holiday, my dad, ever a classic movie buff, graciously DVR'd Busby Berkely's "The Gold Diggers Of 1935" to show me from Turner Classic Movies (thanks dad). A gorgeous piece of arty, outlandish, deco musical cinema, its "Lullabye Of Broadway" sequence is completely breath taking, obviously for the lighting and super elaborate set pieces and choreography, but especially for the striking long shot of the singer's face framed alone in a massive field of black. Check it out below, it's incredible:
Inspired (obviously and very much so, heh) by Berkely's film i was already eager to try both something that went after a powerful minimalism and/or a dense and more maximal solution. I started sketching and quickly realized that to attempt something visually busy and loaded with detail seemed not to do justice to the review or the described tone and content of the novel. Reviewing the layout, i settled on the following sketch using the lone magnified period as Berkely's black void with a small slightly out of focus skull drifting in the background. Knowing that the "period" would be sitting in the center of the page i thought it would have a bold initial impact while inviting a second or third glance as the review unfolded. Also, as a piece of exaggerated punctuation, it would hopefully co-opt the entire page to bolster the concept.
I also did the "safety sketch" below which is admittedly awful but kind of gets the same point across albeit in a far less interesting way. Blissfully the ADs were on board with the original idea.
From there the finish was a lot fun, mainly involving playing with textures that would feel like magnified print but also something evoking an abstract, out of focus sense of space. The final result was one of my favorite illustration pieces of last year. Thanks again to Nicholas, Catherine and Joon at the BR and Happy New Year!